Things are about to be shaken up within the kayfabe world of WWE as the upcoming 28th April episode of Friday Night SmackDown will kickstart the 2023 edition of the WWE Draft.
If reports are to be believed, this booking decision – coinciding with another major draft – will see multiple surprises, a few of which may have otherwise taken place on the Raw after WrestleMania.
The WWE draft usually makes for a very interesting watch with guaranteed surprises which lead to interesting shifts in dynamics and new directions for plenty of superstars.
Akin to the transfer window in football and with the next few weeks in WWE certain to be very exciting, here are the seven most shocking draft picks in WWE history.
7. Triple H to SmackDown – 2004
Thankfully, for WWE, their draft system is not like the transfer window of football. Else, going by Triple H’s reaction at his draft pick and the quick U-turn, reportedly sanctioned by Vince McMahon, would have left the company in a pickle.
In 2004, with the likes of Brock Lesnar and Goldberg on their way out and having already lost The Rock and Stone Cold, WWE were starting from scratch to build the next generation of torchbearers.
Triple H, then part of the ‘Evolution’ faction, was seen as one of the mainstays who could help build the younger wrestlers. And SmackDown, with workhorses like the late Eddie Guerrero and then upcoming superstar John Cena, was chosen as ‘The Game’s’ destination.
‘The King of Kings’, however, was himself left shocked by this and would eventually be drafted back to Monday nights without ever competing in a match on SmackDown.
6. Kane to Raw – 2008
This draft pick was classic WWE; and a perfect showcase of how to kill a brand. Circa 2008, ECW was essentially WWE’s third brand after Raw and SmackDown, with Kane as the extreme wrestling brand’s top champion.
The ‘Big Red Machine’ had just been crowned champion, following a victory against Chavo Guerrero at WrestleMania and that match – which Kane won in 11 seconds – was a clear indication of how Vince McMahon viewed ECW.
As Kane was randomly picked to be drafted to Raw, ECW was left without a major championship, despite Bobby Lashley having to relinquish his gold for a similar eventuality only a year earlier.
Kane’s reign as ECW champion did not last too long either with Mark Henry capturing the gold in a triple-threat match involving Big Show.
Overall, this draft pick helped nobody, buried a wrestler (at least) and demeaned the importance of the top championship of the very company. Shocking!
5. Batista to SmackDown – 2005
On the 6th June episode of Monday Night Raw, Chris Jericho introduced John Cena as the first draft pick of that year, leaving the then Thursday night show without any top champion.
Consequently, SmackDown General Manager Teddy Long would commission a six-man elimination match for the 30th June episode of the then Thursday night show to crown the new ‘SmackDown Champion’.
Former champion JBL, from whom Cena won the title, scored the decisive pinfall over Christian, prompting GM Teddy Long to march to the ring, seemingly to unveil the new title.
JBL’s jubilation would soon turn into shock as instead of revealing a championship, Teddy Long would reveal a champion. SmackDown’s newest acquisition and the year’s final draft pick – the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Batista!
4. Finn Balor to Raw – 2016
Wrestlers have seen better times than the mid-2010s to be called up to the main roster from NXT. For a variety of reasons, NXT call-ups to the main roster had failed to make their mark.
Thus, it came across as a major shock to see Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon pick Finn Balor in the very first round of the 2016 draft. To put this into perspective, Balor was picked ahead of Roman Reigns that year.
The first-round pick on the 19th July episode of SmackDown would go on to enjoy one of the best initial runs ever for any wrestler in the history of the company, feuding and successfully beating the current ‘Tribal Chief’ before going on to win the WWE Universal Championship.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed this dream run of the now member of the ‘Judgment Day’ and he would never rediscover that main event momentum on the main roster.
3. John Cena to SmackDown… and back to Raw – 2011
WWE loves throwing a curve ball. And the entire John Cena back and forth between the two major promotions of WWE on the same night was peak Vince McMahon.
On the 25th April 2011 episode of Monday Night Raw, Kofi Kingston and Big Show – representing SmackDown – won a 20-man Battle Royal to earn the right to secure the blue brand its first draft pick, which turned out to be John Cena.
As the newest big-ticket acquisition, Cena would go on to represent SmackDown that night itself in the main event, looking to secure the night’s final televised pick for his new employers.
In that six-man tag-team match, partner Mark Henry turned heel on Cena, handing Raw the win and a draft pick.
Moments later, the titantron revealed Cena to be that draft pick, which essentially meant, he stayed on the red brand.
This much a do-about-nothing episode wasted two draft picks and diminished the very importance of the whole drafting exercise.
Perhaps the takeaway was the important life lesson of not taking anything too seriously.
2. Lita to Raw – 2002
Women in WWE have not always been positioned favourably, with the top championship of the division having the word ‘Diva’ in it till as late as 2016.
With the women’s (r)evolution being branded as the tipping point for women to be recognised as wrestling superstars, one must not forget the trailblazing female competitors from the early parts of this century.
Back in 2002, the women’s division was not nearly as strong as it is now, and the female wrestlers were utilised more for vanity than wrestling.
Hence, it can be deemed as path-breaking that the first-ever draft had its final televised pick to be a woman. Lita, the most popular female wrestler at the time, was chosen by Ric Flair as his final draft pick on the 25th March episode of the then WWF Raw show.
Consequently, Lita became the first female draft pick in the history of the organisation and while still shocking at the time, the reaction was of the good kind!
1. Roman Reigns to SmackDown – 2019
Cody Rhodes commented on the road to WrestleMania that Roman Reigns was an ’11-year, millions of dollars project’ of the WWE which only started to pay off in year eight.
This was the precursor to that turnaround.
Perhaps the greatest draft pick in hindsight, one which is likely to establish Reigns on the Mount Rushmore of WWE was shocking at the time, because the red brand was seen as the A-show of WWE. And Reigns clearly its top dog, irrespective of how the fans reacted or wanted.
WWE, however, shocked the world by having the now near 1000-day Undisputed WWE Universal Champion make the move to Friday nights.
Over the next few years, Roman Reigns would change character, entrance music, get Paul Heyman to manage him, institute the ‘Bloodline’ and become the irrefutable superstar among wrestlers he is today.